While most of us have never heard of the Portland Vase, ceramic and glass artisans recognize it as the Mona Lisa of glassblowing.
A one-of-a-kind example of Roman art most likely crafted during the lifetime of Jesus, it is priceless. Discovered during the Renaissance, the vase was associated with the most prestigious names of Europe and, eventually, placed AT the British Museum for permanent display by the 7th Duke of Portland.
It is there that Feb. 7 becomes crucial, for at 2:45 p.m. on that day in 1845, one William Lloyd (later revealed by the police to actually be William Mulcahy), after a week of drunkenness, wandered into the museum, grabbed a nearby sculpture and shattered the priceless Portland Vase into 137 shards.
Interrogated, he produced several inconsistent responses as to why he acted so destructively: he did not like the vase, he did not remember his actions, he was angry that many people went hungry while a piece of clay received so much adulation, and he thought it idolatrous for such respect to be shown for an object instead of God (Mulcahy was a ministerial school dropout, if that might have played any determinant of his personality).
His lawyer managed to have him choose between a three-pound fine or time in jail. Mulcahy, an unemployable drunk, opted for prison (?), and, furthermore, could not have paid a replacement value if such had been possible ascribed for the Portland Vase.
The museum officials and the Duke decided to forgo any civil action, not for any humanitarian feelings toward Mulcahy but for his family, who had long lived with the embarrassment of his many irresponsible shenanigans.
One might easily draw a spiritual lesson from this historical occurrence and find a supportive quotation from Jesus’ teaching: “Do not cast pearls before swine.” That application would be appropriate and timely. Ours is a culture that lauds the temporary and sensational and eschews the eternal and altruistic. Human history is cluttered with untold numbers of choices made on the basis of fleeting excitement or the if-it-feels-good, do-it philosophy. The result has oftentimes been a life of drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy or wasted existence that had once been a life sated with opportunity and promise.
This reasoning is accurate, but it is not all the truth to be gained from this event.
From the Portland Vase’s destruction in 1845 until 1987, its pieces went through histories of their own. Some were lost and rediscovered. Others were put together in pitiable attempts to reconstruct the artwork. The chemical knowledge of adhesives improved through many phases, and even the science of art restoration grew painstakingly by volumes.
Today, the Portland Vase resides (very well protected) on permanent display at the British Museum again. Only an expert with a microscope is able to detect the fracture lines.
And therein lies the truth upon which our attention should focus.
Remember the old violin of Myra Welch’s famous poem The Touch of the Master’s “Hand”: “Many a man with his life out of tune / And battered and scarred by sin / Is auctioned cheap by the thoughtless crowd / Much like the old violin. /...But the Master comes and the foolish crowd / Never can quite understand / The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought / By the touch of the Master’s hand.”
God’s concentration is always on a person’s potential in the future not their failures in the past.
The prophet Jeremiah stated this truth most succinctly, “There is hope in your future.”